System Wind-Up

What is it? | What causes it? | How to recognise it? | Solutions | Main Aim


What is it?

Answer: A direct cause of pain and injury primarily from specific, unhelpful thoughts, feelings and behaviours

Many people are aware that a dysfunction in the muscles, joints, bones or nervous system can contribute to injury within the human body.  However it is not well publicized that thoughts, emotions and behaviours can also lead directly to injury and pain creation, or persistence, in the body.  When we recognise the primary cause to a condition can be any of these factors we have a much better chance to solve the problem.  This holistic approach helps ensure the most important factors for each condition are not missed


What causes it?

System wind-up occurs when there are too many unhappy-signals (negative signals/noxious input) resulting from unhelpful thoughts, feelings, behaviours are sent to the subconscious brain & spinal cord which directly negatively effects the structures of the body.

A simple, commonly recognised, example is neck muscle tension (shoulder hitching/forward head) with stressful time at a computer; another example is jaw tension (clenching) from a build up of worry.  System wind-up can be the primary cause of a painful condition and injury, or a result of a condition, and this is what the Ridgway Method problem solving process can quickly help determine.


How recognise System Wind-Up?

A good place to start is to list all the negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours that link to a painful condition or injury.  Ridgway Method Certified Practitioners can help you assess and change the factors below, in the rare cases this isn't quickly helping then we help you find someone who can. Please note: in most cases all the bold factors below can be quickly improved once the underlying cause is found.

A list of common examples:

Thoughts Hyper-vigilance, Unhelpful beliefs, Mismatching ideas, Unhelpful expectations, Unconfident for a solution, Memory of painful events, etc.
Feelings Frustration, Stress, Excessive self-joint cracking, Worry, Anxiety, Fear/scared, Depressed, etc.
Actions Frequent self-massage, Jittery movements, Overdoing activities, Excessive stretching, Upper-rib-cage-breathing, etc.

The above factors can the the primary cause of the factors below, or a result of:

Muscles Tight/Guarding, Ache, Spasm/Locking-up/pulling, Swelling, Tearing, Weak, etc.
Joints        Stiff/tight, Unstable, Clicking, Cracking, Giving way, Swelling, etc.
Nerves      Guarding neck/back muscles, Difficult to ease the pain, Persistently tight muscles, Pins/needles, Shooting pain, Burning sensation, etc.

It is important to be mindful of other influences to pain in case these are primary:

Organ Conditions Immunological, Illnesses, Infections, Endocrinological/hormonal, Other non-musculoskeletal factors, etc.

Dysfunction of any of these parts of the body results in negative signals informing the brain of an 'unhappy state' which leads to the brain creating protective strategies such as pain, guarding and injury (see diagram below).


Persistent/Chronic Pain Diagram

The above diagram shows the interactions between the mental & physical systems of the body and how these influence the brain & creation of pain. For example, an underlying cause of anxiety can lead to an increase in muscle tension around a body part. e.g. The neck-shoulder muscles or low back muscles | This can accumulate to be a serious injury. 

The anxiety and the muscle tension/injury transmit negative signals to the subconscious brain which contribute to “wind up” within the nervous system. Once this wind up reaches a threshold, the final outcome is the brain creating pain & discomfort.  This painful experience is our protection mechanism, an indicator that something needs to be fixed to turn off the negative signals.

An analogy: Car engine revs have an ideal range, just like nerve impulses in the body.  A car that always revs in the red-zone can be analogised as similar to stress causing the nervous system to always be in the 'red-zone' - i.e. wind-up.  A car always revving in the red-zone overheats and the engine warning signal comes on the dash.  In the body the stress and red-zone nerve signals cause excessive muscle tension and the warning signal is pain.  What can be done?  Receive treatment to decrease the 'revs' (nerve signals) to normal, this decreases the muscle tension and the brain no longer has a reason to create pain


Solutions | What can be done about System Wind-Up?

The negative signals to the brain can be turned off rapidly once the primary, or most significant, mental or physical factor is changed.  In complex conditions multiple factors contribute negative signals to the nervous system. Therefore in order to most quickly and successfully solve system wind-up, the most significant negative signals from the mental & physical components need to be the focus.  Addressing these components, and making positive changes, is like settling the car-revs down to normal, and allowing optimal function with no warning signal and no pain (as described in the diagram below).

Eliminating Persistent/Chronic Pain Diagram

The physical components are addressed with good physiotherapy treatment/interventions to ensure muscles, joints and nerves are functioning in an optimal state.  This is achieved most rapidly with solving the most significant factor that contributes to a condition - the Ridgway Method defines this as the Primary Contributing Factor.

The mental components can be changed with a number of options.  Good physiotherapy treatment with assessing the worst contributing factors and changing these; pain education; specific behaviour modification; changing unhelpful thoughts and unhelpful beliefs; and in the more complex cases referral to a mental health expert. However, once the mental and physical components are tailored to the individual needs of each person, and fixed, there are no longer negative signals contributing to wind up within the system, and no pain.


Main Aim

The main aim is to solve the underlying reason for why the brain is receiving negative, unhappy signals.  This is often not what you think it is.  Once this is solved the body has the power to 'heal' very quickly decrease the pain. 

The Ridgway Method is a unique and effective process for finding the Primary Contributing Factor (PCF), or underlying cause.  The Ridgway Method is based on the newest, exciting research into brain processing and it’s relationship to pain, that is being carried out by some of the world's top physiotherapy and neuroscience researchers. If you would like more information or presentations on this topic to your coaches/athletes/co-workers then please feel free to contact us to arrange information sessions with practical outcomes.

Important: All information provided is the expert opinion of highly qualified and experienced musculoskeletal physiotherapists. Individual conditions vary and advice regarding specific conditions requires consultation with registered health professionals.

Further reading articles; non-physical factors causing pain - Professor Peter O'Sullivan... Discussion | Research

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